Yes, this is taboo, especially in Asian culture.
Can your child be successful hanging around individuals with special needs? Doesn't it just hold them back?
These are typically the thoughts that run through our minds if we have typical children and they meet individuals with special needs. And that's okay.
However, with the right understanding, and a different perspective, the outcomes may surprise you.
Let's try and understand a little more how your child can be successful if they have friends with special needs. As we think about what makes your child succeed in life, relationships and career, let's think about how the presence of another child with different needs can help grow and flourish them both to be successful.
Reasons why your child is most successful with a friend with special needs in their life
(How many of these traits does your child already have?)
1) They learn to celebrate and value the life of every human being
Is not every single human being important? Sometimes as teachers and parents, we struggle to fully believe this to be true. This belief comes much easier to our children than to us. Maybe its time we learn from them and stop ourselves from whispering ideas of discrimination and prejudice to their ears.
2) They learn kindness and empathy
Who does not agree that we need more of this in this world? However, kindness and empathy is like a muscle that is built. It is something our children need to be shown how to react and encouraged to continue when they've gotten it right.
3) They learn to be patient and persevere
Life will throw its share of failures and frustrations. Learning to be patient and persevere is one of the best things your child can learn especially from interacting with an individual with different needs. As your child learns to appreciate and love another individual different from themselves, they will see that their patience and perseverance grows.
4) They learn different ways of communicating
Successful people are people who understand what makes individuals "tick". They understand how to communicate with all types of people. Is your child only able to communicate with certain types of individuals? Could you guide them to take the time to get to know and understand another individual who communicates differently? This is a vital skill that your child needs and can learn from a very early age if they have a friend with special needs.
5) They learn that there is something they can learn from everyone
This is something we (myself included) are learning. Can we really learn something from everyone? Do you truly believe that your children are able to glean from another peer even if that peer does not seem on the surface to be "better" than them? Can another individual with special needs have courage, perseverance, optimism, excitement, passion, ideas that can build your child?
How many of us have not been blown away by Nick Vujicic's life because we gave him a chance and looked beyond his physical appearance? Imagine young Nick Vujicic in your child's class. How would you have had your child respond to him?
6) They learn to celebrate diversity
Growing up in Malaysia has been interesting. As much as one would categorize Malaysia as a country brimming with diversity, we still have much to learn when it comes to celebrating diversity. For in many communities, we are still divided. But thanks to the internet, our world is shrinking. The demographic makeup of our communities is also rapidly changing. To be successful, your children need to be at ease with and celebrate diversity.
7) They learn that everyone is worthy of love - not just those "perfect" in the eyes of the world
They learn that the beauty and value of a person lies not in that person's achievements, appearance or performance.
I love seeing faces of parents light up when they see their children - typical and atypical children alike. Their parents love them so much. Our children need to see that ALL are valued and deserving of love, not just the "perfect" ones in the world.
Through this also, they learn to love themselves.
8) They excel academically
Inclusion (including individuals with special needs into the regular general education classroom) research by Boutot and Bryant suggests that typical students who share a classroom with individuals with special needs and support them, increase in their academic abilities.
Here Dan Habib talks about how the inclusion of his son Samuel has transformed a community and shaped both his family and the families in their town.
9) They will be the ones who will build a more accessible tomorrow
Accessibility is giving someone opportunity to have access to a place or service. It is one of the keys for all people regardless of ability to learn to be independent and successful. Gone is the era where individuals with physical disabilities remain homebound. We now know there are better ways. Our children will build a tomorrow that is accessible for all.
10) They help your child develop awareness of their strengths and weaknesses
Your children will refuse to allow their weaknesses to define them. They will learn that weaknesses are part of life but weaknesses do not need to hold them back.
This could be a great talking point. Parents are able to discuss with their children about their strengths and weaknesses. It is a great place to build their self-awareness. Great place to talk about how we are created to need each other.
11) They learn to be advocates for others - they protect the "weak" against bullying and harassment
Successful, respected leaders know and understand who they lead and are fierce advocates for those under their care. Is your child growing to become such a leader?
12) They will understand how to take care of their parents and loved ones when they get older and abilities decrease
Your children will not be afraid of uncomfortable situations. If seeing an individual in need makes your child uncomfortable, it will be a very difficult task for them to attend to you when you age and have needs. Help them understand that they do not need to fear such situations. Equip to handle these situations and bring joy to it.
13) They learn that some of the most beautiful moments in life can come from two completely different individuals connecting with a smile and an understanding that both are valued
It is an indescribable moment.
Much to think about. As you ponder about what helps make your child successful, what helps your child grow, do not despise the "weak" things in this world for it is said that weak things in this world are used to confound that which is mighty.
Let's learn together,